Andrew Lang once observed, "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses
lampposts, for support rather than illumination."
So it is with quotations.
Most often they are used to introduce or support a premise made
in a presentation, sales pitch or advertisement-just as I was doing
above in this article. Unfortunately, if you are using them solely in
that context, you could be overlooking the inherent value of the quotations
themselves. In fact, I have found quotations to be indispensable aids
in developing presentations -- not just as a means of support, but also
as a source of "illumination." They can be an invaluable brainstorming
and authoring tool, and a vital part of the creative process.
To illustrate, not
long ago I was asked to make a short presentation at a three-day regional
conference where the theme was "Success in the '90s." To get the creative
juices flowing, I pulled out a copy of my favorite book of quotations
and searched the section on success quotes. I came across this quote
by John Charles Salak: "Failures are divided into two classes: those
who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought."
Starting with this
single germ of an idea, I developed a presentation called "Three Guaranteed
Ways to FAIL in the '90s-or any Other Decade." Assuming the other three
speakers would discuss how to be successful in the '90s (an assumption
that proved to be correct), I decided to take this more novel approach
to set my presentation apart from the pack. Since this program turned
out to be the best attended and highest-rated of the conference, I give
much of the credit to Mr. Salak. His noteworthy and succinct observation
saved me immeasurable hours of development time.
After that, even
more ideas flowed from his basic premise. Using his quote as a starting
point, I came up with three, rather than two, types of failures, and
addressed each of them in the form of a "sleep" metaphor:
- they think, but never do. Those are the Walter Mittys in life who
have all kinds of grandiose ideas and brainstorms, but never follow
through due to procrastination, lack of self-confidence, etc.
- they do, but never think. These are the Ralph Kramdens of the world
who run with an idea without thinking it through or without taking
the time to plan and prepare.
- they never think or do! I can't prove it, but I suspect a demographic
survey would reveal that this segment of the population consists largely
of people who watch a lot of TV infomercials. More specifically, these
are the folks who simply wander through life without any specific
goals, aim or purpose.
I then found other
quotations on the subjects of procrastination, planning, goal setting
and so forth. So, in my own way, I addressed many of the same issues
the other speakers did, but from a different frame of reference. And
it was this approach-initially fueled by one solitary quotation-that
ultimately made my presentation unique. Best of all, my presentation
almost wrote itself. What would probably have taken many hours (if not
days), took only a few hours, and my presentation, I am certain, was
infinitely better because of it.
I'll close with
this advice from English clergyman and writer Charles Caleb Colton:
"When in reading we meet with any maxim that may be of use, we should
take it for our own, and make an immediate application of it, as we
would of the advice of a friend whom we have purposely consulted."
So, come on, sober
up and take a look at quotations in a new light. You'll find that Samuel
Johnson was right -- "Classical quotation is the parole of literary
men all over the world." I know it's saved me on many occasions.
1999-2000 by William C. Wilson, Jr.
All Rights Reserved.